What is a Community Action Agency?
A Community Action Agency is a nonprofit organization that conducts a wide variety of social services in order to help low-income people break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act which created Community Action Agencies (CAAs). The Act grew out of the belief that low-income people know best what their community’s challenges are and how to work together to overcome them.
CAAs sponsor food banks, programs for the elderly, youth programs, legal services, affordable housing, home repair and job training. CAAs are funded through a combination of federal state and local grants, and donations from individuals. Federal funding for CAAs comes from the Community Service Block Grant Program.
SEICAA began as a small group of volunteers who began serving noon meals to seniors in 1963. Although it was a day-to day struggle to keep the program alive, these dedicated volunteers managed to continue serving meals by buying for the current day with proceeds from the previous day. In 1968, Bannock County proposed a combination recreation and social service neighborhood center with opportunities for seniors and low-income youth. It was soon to be known as Southeastern Idaho Community Action Agency, and was formally incorporated in 1969. Gary H. Gunnerson, a native of Utah, was the first Executive Director.
It was in 1972 that the Agency began moving into full community action status. Staff was hired to set up a program for senior citizens, a low income women’s program, RSVP, a housing coalition, an information referral system, a senior transit system as well as an ancillary staff consisting of an accountant, bookkeeper and a secretary/administrative assistant. There was also a Weatherization program. The aging program for seniors provided daily meals and a place in which seniors could socialize with others through music, dancing and such classes as ceramics and china painting.
Various programs in Pocatello coordinated their efforts to provide greater services throughout the community. Pocatello Organization for Women (POW) was the name for the program to help low income women develop more confidence in themselves and encourage them to become more assertive – especially through furthering their education. The housing coalition was made up of people of diversity in the community who worked to improve better housing for low-income families. It became the forerunner of the Pocatello Housing Authority. The transit system consisted of two vehicles and later named Tello Bus. Seniors could call to be picked up to come to the agency or for other purposes. Drivers were radioed by the dispatcher back at the agency. Nursing home residents, regardless of age, were also brought to the meal program. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) was also set up as was the Meals On Wheels program, Weatherization and the Information Referral system.
For nearly five decades now, SEICAA has provided the region with a variety of anti-poverty programs. Some have disappeared as federal funds were reduced; others have become separate agencies. Today SEICAA continues to administer and develop programs responsive to the needs of elderly, disabled and low-income people.
Stone Soup Celebration
SEICAA’s Stone Soup fundraising dinner began in 1988. This tradition has continued and currently this festival is an important part of the Pocatello community, with over 1,000 patrons coming each year. In the folk tale “Stone Soup,” neighbors bring together limited resources to make a dinner for everyone. This dinner replicates the story as community members and businesses bring together what they have to benefit those who do not have. Stone Soup donations, ticket sales, and silent auction funds go directly to the individuals who need it for items not covered by SEICAA’s other programs. Stone Soup funds are utilized to promote self-sufficiency activities, including GED participation, education support, and other supportive services.
Board of Directors
By federal law, SEICAA’s governing Board of Directors is composed of one-third low-income residents or their representatives, one-third publicly elected officials or their designees, with the remainder being members of the private sector such as business, industry, labor, religion, welfare, education and so on. Suzanna Nelson is the current Chairman of the Board of Directors.
- 2001 to Present —- Debra R. Hemmert, CCAP
- 1998-2001 ———– Pamela McKinley
- 9/97-2/98 ————Debra R. Hemmert, Interim Director
- 1983-1997 ———– Janice Perry Rhoads
- 1975-1983 ———– Carl Griffin
- 1969-1975 ———- Gary H. Gunnerson